What on earth has happened at Chelsea? They used to be so much fun, an injection of pure defensive banter whenever Arsenal weren’t playing.
Yet those days appear to behind them. It turns out that having a trophy-laden central defender with over 90 caps for Brazil and a goalkeeper whose hands aren’t made of smoke can prove rather fruitful when it comes to keeping clean sheets.
Since their last home league match – in which they led 2-0, and later 3-2 in stoppage time – ended in a 3-3 draw against Southampton, the Blues have kept five successive clean sheets for the first time in a decade. They shut out Sevilla, Manchester United, Krasnodar, Burnley and Rennes. All the greats.
But what has been the cost of their new found solidity? Aside from against the Russian side, Frank Lampard’s team didn’t create a ton of chances in those matches. If you exclude penalties for the sake of argument, Chelsea have only had eight clear-cut chances in their seven league games so far this season.
To give that a little context, Leeds United had five in one match against Manchester City, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin alone has had nine. Fortunately for the Blues, they’re hosting the most toothless side in the top flight on Saturday.
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After 630 Premier League minutes in 2020/21, Sheffield United have the sum total of three goals, and just one which wasn’t a penalty. David McGoldrick’s late consolation goal at Arsenal could soon become a sacred text to United fans of the future if they’re not careful.
But things have to turn for them eventually. No side has converted a lower proportion of their expected goals into actual ones this season, and five teams in the division – including Manchester United and Wolves – have worse underlying statistics on the attacking front. Exclude penalties, and the Blades’ average chance quality is actually a shade higher than Chelsea’s.
And if recent head-to-head history is your betting guide of choice, then you’d favour the away side. They took four points from Chelsea last term, coming from 2-0 down to earn a draw at Stamford Bridge way back in August last year, before brushing them aside 3-0 at Bramall Lane in July.
Recent form has to be more pertinent though and since football restarted in June, Sheffield United have earned the fewest points of the Premier League’s 17 ever-present clubs. Their form will turn in due course, but it’s unlikely to start to do so on Saturday.
Regular readers will have seen that my last two previews have covered Chris Wilder’s team, and both matches were tough clashes against the top two sides from last season’s league table. So as they’re now facing one of the other Champions League qualifiers from 2019/20, should we expect more of the same?
It’s hard not to assume so. The Blades only lost two league matches by more than two goals last season, and they’ve got through facing Manchester City and Liverpool without suffering that fate. They might be struggling to score at the moment, but they’re still incredibly difficult to play against. You can be sure they’ll head to west London aiming to pick up a point with anything else very much a bonus too.
Even though they only lost six times on the road last season, the Blades scored just 15 times in their 19 away matches. They look very unlikely to find the net at Stamford Bridge, and as this will be Chelsea’s seventh game in 21 days since the last international break, the Blues should be too tired to run riot.
Chelsea have used the joint-highest number of players in the Premier League this season, and only three of them have appeared in all seven of their fixtures so far. That makes it tricky to pick a goalscorer bet as it’s tough to know who will be in Lampard’s starting XI.
However, we can discount two of the ever-present trio from our thoughts. N’Golo Kante scores the occasional belter (but the emphasis is on ‘occasional’), while Kai Havertz has unfortunately tested positive for Covid-19 this week.
Which leaves us with Timo Werner, who has started to find the back of the net on a very regular basis. Werner scored twice in the last league game at the Bridge, and has since also netted against Krasnodar, Burnley and – albeit from the penalty spot – Rennes.
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